Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Resurgence of Ross River virus in Australia

The Australian news service ABC has reported a resurgence in Ross river virus in the Australian state of New South Wales. Ross river virus is a togavirus with a mosquito vector.

Health officials in the NSW area point to an alarming 540 cases of RRV so far this year, as compared to an approximate 80 cases recorded by March of last year, a seven-fold increase. A large percentage of these cases have been localized to the north coast of New South Wales. Dr. Vicky Sheppeard, the New South Wales Health Department's Director of Communicable Diseases suggests that warmer, wetter weather creates more opportunities for standing water that mosquitos can breed in, and that a new trapping device phased in by NSW authorities may be killing fewer mosquitos.

Unfortunately there is presently no treatment or cure for RRV, which can last from a few weeks to a month, and usually produces a fever, rash, and myalgia symptoms. A phase three vaccine for the illness is currently in development, however. Dr. Sheppeard's advice was to avoid being bit by mosquitos in the first place, but for many outdoors-loving Australians, this may be a challenge.

As I did RRV for one of my first-quarter pathogen cards, I was excited to finally see the virus get its due in the news. RRV is traditionally found around the Ross River in Queensland, another state in Australia. Interestingly, scientists hypothesize that one animal reservoir of RRV is marsupial mammals such as kangaroos!

RRV is found in both Australia and New Zealand, though it has been eradicated from New Zealand, primarily by controlling mosquito populations.

--Shubha Raghvendra


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